Clayton Kershaw Embraced Pressure from Past Losses to Fuel Dodgers to 2020 World Series Win
"With how much the Dodgers are loved in L.A., to finally be able to say I was a part of the team that brought a World Series championship back to the city — it's pretty, pretty unbelievable," Clayton Kershaw tells PEOPLE
Just moments after the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Tampa Bay Rays to clinch the 2020 World Series title on Tuesday night, cameras filmed Clayton Kershaw jogging out to the field with his palms up and eyes to the sky, soaking in the moment that had eluded him and his team for so long.
"You can never script something like that, how you're going to feel or what you're going to do, but at the moment, I think the first feeling was just joy," the 32-year-old pitcher tells PEOPLE. "I was just so happy that we did it."
"I don't know what I expected it to feel like, but I think 'contentment' is just a great word," Kershaw says.
If fans could boil down the Dodgers' journey over the last few years, another great word after their win would be "redemption."
In 2017, the team famously reached the World Series for the first time in nearly three decades, only to fall to the Houston Astros in seven games. Houston was later fined $5 million and forced to give up draft picks in 2020 and 2021 after an investigation found they had been using cameras to steal signs throughout the 2017 season. The Astros were allowed to keep their championship and the league did not punish players.
The Dodgers reached the World Series once again in 2018 but lost in five games to the Boston Red Sox. Their World Series hopes were dashed the following season when the Washington Nationals, the eventual 2019 champions, eliminated them in the divisional round.
The loss fueled speculation that the Dodgers' title window was coming to an unceremonious close — and the pressure placed on the team had seemingly reached a climax.
"There's always pressure. Every year that you don't win, the pressure mounts," Kershaw, a former National League MVP, three-time Cy Young winner and eight-time All-Star, says. "But pressure is a great thing — that means that somebody expects something out of you. Every single year that we haven't won, yes, that pressure has mounted a little bit."
Then came 2020, a tumultuous and yet oh-so-magical year that proved the third time was the charm for the Boys in Blue.
"There's definitely some relief after finally having done it after all these years," Kershaw admits. "With how much the Dodgers are loved in L.A., to finally be able to say I was a part of the team that brought a World Series championship back to the city — it's pretty, pretty unbelievable."
The Texas native was instrumental each time he took the mound, with each of his two appearances ending in victories. His talents were especially on full-display in Game 5, which followed a chaotic ending in Game 4 that saw Tampa Bay come from behind and win in the final moments of the ninth inning. Kershaw's Game 5 performance assured the Rays' would not ride any momentum and take the lead in the then-tied series.
"The moment was so sweet because of the journey it's taken for us to get here," Kershaw's wife of 10 years, Ellen, says of the championship win. "To see Clayton run from the bullpen to the center where all the celebrations were happening was incredible. I mean, it was one of those surreal moments I don't think I'll ever forget."
The Dodgers now join the Lakers as the second L.A. professional sports team to secure a championship this year. Coincidentally, both teams did the same in 1988, the year the Dodgers last won the World Series.
The teams' successes has served as a high point for southern California, which experienced a tremendous loss in January with the death of Kobe Bryant, who was a staple of the area since joining the Lakers in 1996.
"We saw the Lakers winning, their Black Mamba jerseys and all the different things they did to remember Kobe's legacy," Kershaw says of the Lakers' NBA Finals run earlier this month. "I think we definitely tried to understand that and remember that as best we could while we were playing, too."
Now that the season is over, Kershaw and his wife are looking forward to some relaxation at their offseason home in Dallas. They also plan to continue their work with Kershaw's Challenge, the couple's faith-based nonprofit.
Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the organization — which helps at-risk children across the world — has distributed $2 million to its beneficiaries. They also hosted a virtual baseball camp and passed out backpacks full of supplies during their Back to School Bash in L.A.
"It's really humbling to see our expectations changed," Ellen — who shares children Cali, 5, Charley, 3 and Cooper, 10 months, with Kershaw — explains. "But in the midst of that, winning the World Series is incredible because it raises our platform, and we have a bigger audience to be able to share our work."
"It's been an incredible year for Kershaw's Challenge, even though we haven't been able to do our big fundraisers," she says of the foundation, which recently launched a beer, Kershaw’s Wicked Curve, with proceeds going to vulnerable children. "People have come along and stayed loyal to the cause, and we've been able to have a greater platform to share the stories of the kids who need our help during this time."
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Kershaw is also holding out hopes that the team will find a way to celebrate their win with fans in the near future. Not only that, he has an idea in mind that could make the event even more special.
"Someone had mentioned to me, 'What if at some point we do a [joint] Lakers and Dodgers parade?'" he recalls. "And I'm like, man, that sounds super cool. I hope we get to pull that off, that would be awesome at some point."
"But for right now, we won and I'm just going to soak that in and enjoy that," Kershaw says. "But L.A. is not going to let us go too long without celebrating."
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